In 2009, Lanell Williams-Yulee signed a letter announcing her candidacy for County Court Judge in Hillsborough County, Florida and requesting campaign contributions. The Florida Bar filed a complaint against Williams-Yulee, arguing that she had violated Canon 7C(1) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, which includes a ban on judicial candidates personally soliciting campaign funds. Williams-Yulee claimed that the judicial canon violated her First Amendment right to free speech. The Florida Supreme Court rejected that argument, holding that the state has a compelling interest in preserving the integrity of the judiciary and maintaining the public’s confidence in an impartial judiciary, and that judicial candidates personally soliciting campaign funds calls into question judges’ impartiality. Williams-Yulee sought review in the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on January 20, 2015.
Thirty-nine states hold judicial elections and 30 of those states have a law or ethics code provision that bans judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions. The ban on personal solicitations is intended to prevent quid pro quo corruption or even the appearance of quid pro quo corruption in the justice system.
Although the Florida rule bans personal solicitations by judicial candidates, it does permit such candidates to establish campaign committees that solicit funds. In addition, judicial candidates may send thank you notes to contributors.
In previous cases, the Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized the fundamental role codes of judicial conduct, such as Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 7C(1) at issue here, play in preserving the integrity of the judicial system and maintaining public confidence in the judiciary.
In this oral argument, Williams-Yulee challenges Florida’s judicial canon banning personal solicitation of campaign funds, claiming that it violates the First Amendment.